In his latest interview Pope Francis says that he does not remember whether or not Archbishop Vigano told him about Theodore McCarrick’s sexual misconduct. He also insists that he knew “nothing, obviously, nothing, nothing” about McCarrick’s misconduct. Those two claims do not sit comfortably side by side.
If you told me that you studied French in high school, I might not recall that fact five years later; it wouldn’t stand out in my mind. But if you told me that you had wrestled a grizzly bear, whether or not I believed you, I would certainly remember the claim. Is the Pope suggesting that the news Archbishop Vigano says he conveyed—that a cardinal-archbishop had been bedding seminarians, and had been ordered by the previous Pontiff to retire from public life—would not have made a lasting impression?
Yet even that outlandish suggestion is not enough to bring the Pope’s two claims into a workable alignment. Because if Archbishop Vigano had informed him, then even if the Pope somehow forgot, he could not truthfully say that he knew “nothing” about the McCarrick scandal.
Archbishop Vigano, not mincing words, made his own position perfectly clear in responding to the new papal interview: “What the Pope said about not knowing anything is a lie.”
So once again we find ourselves asking: Is Archbishop Vigano’s testimony credible? Back in September, when most of the dust had settled after the first explosion of the McCarrick scandal, I summarized the available evidence and found that it weighed heavily in the archbishop’s favor. (Defenders of Pope Francis have preferred not to examine that evidence, instead questioning Archbishop Vigano’s motives.) Pope Francis, for his part, had refused to discuss the Vigano testimony, until during this new interview, Valentina Alazraki of the Mexican Televisa network told him that his silence had become burdensome to reporters, and he proceeded to unburden himself.
Coincidentally (or was it a coincidence?), on the same day that the Televisa interview was made public, important new evidence emerged, supplied by a cleric who could not easily be described as an enemy of the Pontiff. Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, a former secretary to McCarrick, professed his “unswerving affection, loyalty, and support for Pope Francis,” even as he released a raft of information confirming important elements of the Vigano testimony. Msgr. Figueiredo revealed:
- that in August 2008, McCarrick had received instructions from the Vatican, ordering him to remove himself from public life;
- that McCarrick had acknowledged the disciplinary action and promised not to make any further public appearances;
- that copies of the relevant correspondence should be readily available in the files of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops and those of the apostolic nuncio in Washington;
- that the restrictions on McCarrick were known to Cardinal Wuerl, his successor in Washington and to Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, among others;
- that McCarrick had been forbidden to travel to Rome; and
- that in spite of the Vatican restrictions, and despite his promise, McCarrick had continued to make public appearances, had visited Rome, and had acted as a Vatican representative to China, to Iran and Iraq, and elsewhere.
The Figueiredo files do not directly address the question of whether Archbishop Vigano told Pope Francis about the restrictions on McCarrick. But they do make it clear that the disciplinary action was a serious matter: the sort of topic that an apostolic nuncio (Vigano) would likely have discussed with a Pontiff (Francis) visiting the city where McCarrick lived.
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